|The following interview
appeared in the magazine Wrestling Fury Volume 11 Number 3, June
1988 - and looks back over the period between Tom Zenk's departure from
WWF (July 10, 1987) and his signing for another tour with AWA in mid 1988.
Having been effectively barred by McMahon from working in America for the remainder of his contract term with WWF, Tom Zenk spent the fall of 1987 "raking leaves" in his garden before touring Japan (in November and December of that year). But even in Japan he was not spared McMahon's efforts to profit from his work.
This interview is interesting in not following the "in-character" style of many wrestling interviews and is more than usually revealing of aspects of Zenk's personality -
idealism mixed with realism - including the desire to achieve improvements in "the boys" working conditions - by way of group insurance and unionization; but, at the same time, a realistic assessment of the difficulty of organizing "the boys", given their extreme individualism and the intimidatory tactics of promoters - "In this business, the promoter is the pimp and the wrestler the whore. The boys have no rights."
enjoyment of performance - "It's always nice working for a full house" and at the same time, a realistic understanding that "you never know how long you can last in this business."
an easy going attitude which seems to have frustrated other people's plans for his future - "From what I hear, I'll never make anything of myself. Just ask Verne Gagne!" And in Rick Martel's case - "He just kept telling me to hang in for a few years, make some money and THEN leave. I finally got ticked off. I don't like being used."
Tom Zenk (T.Z.): To start with, I've been working out at the gym everyday. You know, when you travel as much as you do with the W.W.F., you never have much gym time. So, I've been working on my body, getting it back to competition form. I've also been trying to get my eating schedule back to normal by eating foods such as brown rice, tuna, fresh fruits and vegetables. I feel better now that I have in a long time. I've always believed in capitalizing on what I've got, although my parents are responsible for my looks. I don't take credit for that!
W.F.: It's obvious you've spent a lot of time in the gym. I know you've won bodybuilding titles, such as Mr. Minnesota, Mr. Twin Cities, and Mr. North Country. I understand physical fitness runs in your family as your younger brother is an exceptional swimmer; one of the top in his age category. What else can you tell us about your family?
T.Z.: That's right. Well, I have parents, of course, an older brother, a younger sister and a much younger brother. He's the great swimmer and happens to be fifteen years younger than me.
W.F.: Now how about "Tom Zenk." What is he like?
T.Z.: I'm really boring! I mean, the thrill of my day last fall was raking the leaves in my backyard! I haven't done that since I lived with my parents. Seriously, I am twenty-eight years old, live in my own house with my dog Max. I still have brown hair and brown eyes, all that boring stuff. Most fans assume a wrestler's life is always exciting but, believe me, it's not!
W.F.: I can't help but notice your hair is fairly short now. Are you trying to break out of the Can-Am Connection image?
T.Z.: I cut my hair in a more business-like style, but I do like it a bit longer than it is. When I first got back to the gym, I had to wear it in a ponytail. But I didn't cut it to lose the image.
W.F.: And, what about Rick Martel? Do you ever hear from him?
T.Z.: Actually, I haven't heard from him since about a week after I quit the W.W.F.
T.Z.: To be totally honest, it was nothing sleazy or scandalous. It was a money dispute. I felt that I was being shafted. The W.W.F. was making good money off of me but my payoff wasn't that great. I talked to Rick about it, since he was supposed to be handling the business end of the deal, but he didn't do anything about it. He just kept telling me to hang in for a few years, make some money and THEN leave. I finally got ticked off. I don't like being used. So on July 10th of last year, in Boston, I dropped off a note to Rick and the keys to our rental car at our hotel's reception desk and left.
W.F.: So, when Rick was seen on television for an interview, supposedly speaking on your behalf, he already knew that you had left, correct?
T.Z.: That's right. Then he came back to Minnesota, where I live, to try and convince me to come back.
W.F.: But, as Martel was quoted as saying "You slammed the door in his face."
T.Z.: And the rest, as they say, is history! They brought in Tito Santana and the Strike Force took up where we left off, and won the tag belts.
W.F.: But the Strike Force doesn't seem to have the Can-Am's charisma, it lacks the overall appeal that you and Rick had. Do you feel the fans back the Strike Force 100%.
T.Z.: Well, there you go - "often imitated, but never duplicated"! I made the Can-Am Connection work. You can prove it by looking at the Strike Force. Something is definitely missing! Rick is still there so what's missing? I'm not being conceited - you said it yourself!
W.F.: Since you broke your contract with the W.W.F., is there a lawsuit pending?
T.Z.: I was served papers for breach of contract. The action was settled out of court but I'm really not free to discuss it.
W.F.: Okay, let me change the subject. You spent three weeks in Japan, from late November until mid December, with Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, Stan Hansen and many others. Who did you team with while there?
T.Z.: Well I was teamed up with The Terminator. Our styles didn't really click, though, since he works like Demolition and I like fast, high flying moves. He was also a bit green but , I guess the promoter figured that I'm relatively new in the business so it would work. I had a great time, though. It's always nice working for a full house and every night the arenas were packed.
|After Can-Am, Tom Zenk spent late November to mid December, 1987 in All Japan Pro-Wrestling ....||
T.Z.: Right now there are rumors about a South African tour. Other than that, I'm not sure. I'm checking out the options though (Independent promotions, tours, etc.) Nobody's going to use me though. I'm in control of my life now.
W.F.: And you have good business sense. We've talked quite a bit about your ideas on how to improve the business....
T.Z.: ....like group insurance and unionization. Well, you know how I feel about all that. Like I've said before, in this business, the promoter is the pimp and the wrestler the whore. The boys have no rights. Not only that but, depending on the original contract you sign, you may not take anything off photo sessions, dolls, T-shirts, etc. All the revenues from Can-Am merchandise would have gone to McMahon. There should always be a percentage for the boys. After all, the promotion is capitalizing on their face/image.
W.F.: I guess a union would help in that but I don't see anyone looking for unionization in the pro-wrestling field.
T.Z.: The boys are just like the promoters: they don't stick together. If one or two started something , the promoter would squash it - say, by firing them - then the other guys wouldn't try it in case they got the boot. It's all intimidation tactics! Not only that, but a lot of guys see big dollar signs and go out and buy big, expensive house and cars. Then they HAVE to work to pay for them. Besides you never know how long you can last in this business. One serious injury and you're finished.
W.F.: And with no insurance, you're on your own financially.
T.Z.: Exactly. If you don't have something to fall back on, you're up a creek without a paddle.
W.F.: So why don't you open your own promotion?
T.Z.: Well, this business is a dog-eat-dog world! From what I hear, I'll never make anything of myself. Just ask Verne Gagne! But seriously, I wouldn't want to promote. If I were to go into business, it would be something like restaurant management, for example.
W.F.: I hope you stay in wrestling, at least for a while! And from the fan mail you've been getting recently, so do quite a few other people!
T.Z.: Thanks! It's been really nice getting fan mail. Up until now, I've never seen any of my mail. I never knew if I'd gotten any or not.
W.F.: Well, in case there are others wondering where they can write to you they can do so in care of Wrestling Fury P O Box 138, Marlboro, N.J. 07746.
T.Z.: Anyone who wants to write, I'd be glad to hear from!
W.F.: Tom, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It was nice to get caught up with what you've been doing since the summer.
T.Z.: Anytime! Thanks to everyone for asking about me.
Editor's Note  - Tom Zenk recently signed with the AWA.